There are 11 teams and their fan bases who will have to ask themselves if the 2013-14 season will be a happy memory despite losing in the playoffs.
It's not always an easy answer, even when you're the most surprising team in the NFL this season.
How do the Chiefs feel about this season? Obviously they made a lot of progress and left a horrendous 2-14 season in 2012 behind. A nine-win turnaround is fantastic and Andy Reid and his coaching staff had a tremendous year. There was a lot to like in Kansas City this year.
But here's the flip side: No quality wins all year (maybe Philadelphia, but the Eagles almost have to be judged differently with Michael Vick and with Nick Foles, and the Chiefs beat the Vick version), swept by division foe Denver and one of the most heartbreaking playoff collapses ever against Indianapolis. And the schedule is going to be a lot tougher next season.
It was a successful season on the whole, of course, but do Chiefs fans feel that way now? Will the Broncos feel like it was a successful season if they don't win a Super Bowl (spoiler alert: no chance)? Do Green Bay fans fondly remember the improbable division title or the last-second playoff loss that followed? One would imagine Bengals fans aren't smiling over that AFC North title. What about the Panthers if they win an unexpected division title but, say, lose to the 49ers this week?
Only one team is going to be entirely happy this offseason. For the others who made the playoffs and fell short, if they remember this season fondly or not is a pretty tough question to answer.
Here are the rankings for the playoff teams who are still alive, and the four who were vanquished last weekend:
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
12. Philadelphia Eagles
All told, this is one franchise and fan base that should feel good about this season, playoff loss or not. The future is very bright. The coaching schemes are in place. The quarterback seems to be too. If they can upgrade the rest of the roster, this team has a bright, bright future.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
There are some good pieces on the defense, and they'll figure out what went wrong on that side of the ball in the second half of the season. The offense probably needs to be more dynamic to sustain this season's success, but they showed signs of that against the Colts.
10. Cincinnati Bengals
It's hard to feel overjoyed about this season's results, even though there were some good things. But the fear that the head coach-quarterback combination limits their ceiling is hanging over the franchise.
9. Green Bay Packers
If the Packers come down with that interception on the 49ers' final drive, they're the team nobody would want to play.
STILL IN CONTENTIONSan Diego Chargers
Barely got into the playoffs, but we've seen before that's not too important. They'll need to run the ball well again to beat the Broncos, and there's no reason to think they can't do that.
7. Indianapolis Colts
The supporting cast, like the defense that allowed more than 500 yards and 44 points to the Chiefs, isn't great. But quarterback Andrew Luck sure is. He's capable of carrying this team to big things.
6. New Orleans Saints
It was big to get that much-needed road win at Philadelphia. But the gap between them and the Seahawks seemed enormous during last month's meeting at Seattle.
5. New England Patriots
A team that has been decimated by injuries had to add linebacker Brandon Spikes to its injured reserve. If they advance to the Super Bowl, it's a coaching-fueled miracle.
4. Carolina Panthers
They won their division, have beat the 49ers on the road already, and rested over the bye week. Yet, they're underdogs at home. That will probably be brought up in that locker room a few times this week.
3. San Francisco 49ers
There's still the matter of probably having to go to Seattle at some point, but the defense is very strong, Colin Kaepernick is capable of making huge plays and Michael Crabtree can be a big difference from their first visit to play the Seahawks.
2. Denver Broncos
They could lose 55-54 on Sunday, and it will still be Peyton Manning's fault. It's not fair, but that's what he deals with.
1. Seattle Seahawks
The offensive struggles late in the season are a concern. But this is still the best team.
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